By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
The word is going around that neither Broderick Jenkins nor Pat Miller should ever walk past the WVU rifle range.
They are West Virginia’s cornerbacks this year and everyone knows that in the Big 12 cornerbacks walk around with huge targets on their backs.
Put another way, if the passing game gives defensive coaches headaches, they are the Excedrin.
As camp opens this week, they and the other defensive backs and linebackers find themselves in a new defense, a 3-4 rather than the familiar old 3-3-stack that had become as much a West Virginia staple as cakes.
This defense is a more daring, more gambling defense, one in which they will play far more man-on-man defense, being left alone on an island with no Ginger or Mary Ann to make it enjoyable.
“We get to play more up close,” said Pat Miller, who is coming back from surgery to help repair a broken bone in his right foot that occurred during the final practice of the spring. “There are a lot of schemes. We get to blitz some now.”
Corner blitzes figure to be a staple of this defense, just as it will be unwilling to simply cede the short pass in front of the corner that the old defense gave up on the theory an offense could not go down the field on short gains without making a mistake.
This defense will be designed to force mistakes and the cornerbacks will be a huge part of that.
“As long as the cornerbacks are playing right, the defense will go just perfect,” Miller said.
“All of us have to come together and do what we have to do and go after a common goal,” Jenkins said. “I had to take a hold of that leadership role because we weren’t really very strong in the spring.”
With Miller out, Jenkins took charge of the younger, inexperienced players, just as the coaches had hoped he would.
“I put myself in the younger cornerbacks’ shoes, just like Brandon Hogan helped me be the best I could be,” he explained. “I tried to put them under my wing.”
It has happened almost without fanfare, but a great cornerback tradition has been created at WVU. Take a look at who goes to the NFL and there are a whole lot of Mountaineer corners there — Mike Logan, Aaron Beasley, Pacman Jones, Ellis Lankster, Brandon Hogan, Keith Tandy, Charles Fisher and Dee McCann in recent years.
“That gives us motivation so we can get a chance to get to the NFL,” Miller said. “If everything goes right hopefully we can get the chance to be the next cornerback to go to the NFL.”
“Seeing that helps me know I can get to the league, too. So I work harder to do it,” Jenkins said.
And it hasn’t just been doing it alone. The players who went through WVU have often come back to offer help and advice, just as they did when they became upper classmen and were working with the younger backups.
“I’m proud to be at such a good school. I just want to be able to add on to this and help kids in the future take advantage of it, just like Keith and Hogan did for me,” Jenkins admitted.
Hogan and Tandy have been around campus during the summer drills getting in workouts and have spoken to both the corners, giving them some lessons they learned during their time here and/or in the NFL.
They will need it all because this isn’t the Big East they are readying for any longer, a league where they run a lot and have inexperienced head coaches for the most part. This is a league where cornerbacks are tested weekly, where throwing 40 passes in a game is the norm, not the exception, and where they produce Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks like Robert Griffin III of Baylor and two-time Biletnikoff Award winner Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State.
Statistics tell us that due to styles, almost every game is a shootout and while it is commonly assumed that the last team possessing the ball usually wins, it’s just as true that the first team to stop anyone is the winner, and that will come down to cornerback play in no small way.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.